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Deepening our Practice of Democracy: NYC’s First Deliberative Participatory Budgeting Process

A more detailed article will soon be published by the Civic Engagement Commission (CEC). The description was included in the CEC's March 2023 newsletter.

And that is a wrap for Phase 2 of The People’s Money Participatory Budgeting Process. Over the course of two months, each of the five Borough Assembly Committees deliberated on ideas generated by residents from across the city and narrowed down the top ideas that will be placed on the ballot for a borough-wide vote.

The Borough Assembly Committees are part of a burgeoning movement for deliberative democracy that is deepening people’s decision-making power around the world. Inspired by Athenian and Indigenous models of social governance, deliberative democratic processes (also known as citizens’ or civic assemblies) create a randomly selected, but demographically representative, sample of a population that together learns about pressing issues, engages in deep deliberation, and develops informed policy solutions. Governments around the world have used this process to address issues such as affordable housing, health care, equity in education, and climate change in Belgium, France, and Brazil. Municipalities in Paris, Brussels, and East Belgium have established permanent assembly models, with Paris providing its citizens with agenda-setting powers.

For The People’s Money, residents in the five Borough Assembly Committees were split into subcommittees focusing on areas such as health and wellbeing, workers' rights, senior services, and education, among others. Over the course of several assemblies, the committees learned from each other's lived experiences and subject matter information while reviewing ideas suggested by their fellow residents. This created a collective wisdom amongst the committees and enabled them to select the projects that would best serve their respective boroughs.

Hear about Nilka Martell’s experience in the Bronx Borough Assembly Committee

“I've been involved in a lot of engagement projects, but this is the first time ever where everyday New Yorkers are actually shuffling through all these ideas and making decisions. Oftentimes you have someone else making the decision for you. So this was very unique in that no one was dictating to us what was most important.”

“…really listening attentively to someone else's struggle, to someone else's challenges, to how these issues impact someone's everyday life was really transformative for me.”

“[The] other people that I was working with on my committee, were so different from each other, we lived in different sections of the Bronx, different wheelhouse, different skill sets. But this process really showed me that regardless of how many differences we have, we have a lot of things in common.”

NYC residents, age 11 and up, regardless of immigration status, will be able to vote on the selected projects starting in May 2023.

Special thanks to The Sortition Foundation, Healthy Democracy, Shared Future CIC, Particitiz, and The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities for supporting the development of our process.

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